Up to R in the ABCs of Gaming. R is for…
Race for the Galaxy came out in 2007 from Rio Grande Games and designer Thomas Lehmann. The game (2-4 players aged 12 and up, 60 minutes to play) is about building a space empire. The roots of the game go back to Puerto Rico, and Lehmann’s work on a card game version. Andreas Seyfarth eventually took over the project, and came out with San Juan in 2004, but used a number of Lehmann’s ideas in the design. Lehmann reworked his game with a space theme, and released it as a standalone game in 2007. It has since spun off into several expansions (three so far, with another [Alien Artifacts] due out sometime this year). RFTG blew away the competition with 30.6% of the vote, beating out second place Ra with 18.4%.
This is a card game, and comes with 150 cards – 5 start worlds, 109 game cards, 28 player action cards, and 8 duplicate player action cards for the advanced two-player game. You also get 4 summary sheets and 28 VP chips in denominations of 1-5-10. Each player begins with a start world on the table and a hand of six cards, of which they may keep four. There are some basic starting four-card hands for each start world that you can use in an introductory game. Players also get a set of seven action cards. Each set is identical, and you can add two duplicate cards for the two-player advanced game (which is the only way to play two-player).
In each round of play, everyone will choose one of their seven action cards and reveal simultaneously. Based on what is played, the round will go through the following sequence: explore, develop, settle, consume, produce. If any action was not chosen, it will not be performed during this round, and each action will only be done once, no matter how many people play the same action. The exception is in the two-player advanced game – each player chooses two actions instead of one, and if the develop or settle action is chosen twice by one player (those are the duplicates), they are done twice. As with Puerto Rico, all players will get to do the chosen action, but the chooser gets an extra benefit. Here’s a closer look at each action:
- Explore: Each player draws two cards, and keeps one. There are two benefits you could choose for this one – draw three and keep two, or draw seven and keep one.
- Develop: Here, you can build a development. These cards are marked with a diamond that contains a number. This number is how many cards you must also discard in order to play the development out in front of you. Developments have special abilities that can be used in the various round phases, and are listed in some weird symbology on the cards (more on that later). Your benefit for choosing this action is that developments cost one less.
- Settle: Here, you can play new world cards to the table. World cards are marked with a circle, and there are several types of circles to keep an eye on.
- The standard circle contains a black number, meaning you must discard that number of cards to play the world.
- A colored circle with a black number is played by discarding cards, but this is a production world, meaning that it will produce goods in phase five.
- A circle with a colored halo and a black number is also played by discarding cards, but this is a windfall world. A card is drawn from the deck and is put on / under the card immediately (keep it face down – you don’t need to know what it is). This is a good that can later be consumed for cards or points.
- A circle with a red number (which may also be colored or have a halo) is a military world. You don’t discard cards for these, but you must have a military strength equal to or greater than the red number. Military is gained by playing worlds or settlements that have military.
- Like developments, worlds provide benefits in the various round phases.
- The benefit for choosing this action is that, after playing a world, you get to draw a card.
- Consume: Here, you may be able to take face down goods on your worlds and turn them in for points. Unlike the previous actions, you must have a consume power in front of you to be able to perform the action. Consume powers are granted by developments and worlds. You can only use each consume power once in a round, so if you have two goods and one consume power, you’ll only be able to consume one good. There are two benefits for choosing this action. One is the trade action – you can choose to turn in one good for a certain number of cards, based on the good type. This is done before anyone else consumes. The other option is to take double VPs for your consumption.
- Produce: In this phase, your production worlds each produce one good (each world can only have one good). Windfall worlds normally do not produce, but the benefit for choosing this action is that you can produce on a windfall world of your choice.
After all relevant phases have been completed, players choose new actions. The game continues until all VP chips have been taken (the value 10 chips are only used to make change after this point so you can keep getting points), or one player has at least 12 cards on their tableau. The current round is completed, and the player with the most points (VP chips + development points + world points + any bonus points from 6-cost developments) wins the race.
There are a lot of similarities to be noted between RFTG and Puerto Rico. Everyone gets to perform an action with a benefit to the chooser; development and settling is comparable to the builder; consuming is equivalent to the captain; production parallels the craftsman; end conditions are similar. But RFTG is its own game, using cards as currency, introducing simultaneous play, and providing some very interesting thematic qualities. The base game includes a bunch of symbols that were not used until future expansions.
A lot of the knocks against this game center on its randomness, the lack of interaction, and, especially, the utterly bewildering symbology. I like to call them hieroglyphics because, without study, they make no sense. However, once you know the game, they’re easy to read. That’s not helpful for a new player, and it contributes to the sharp learning curve in the game. However, I still really enjoy the game, and it was my pick for the Rs. It’s like a puzzle – you have to figure out how to get your engine going and churning out points before the end of the game (which always sneaks up on you). It’s right in the title – it’s a race. Sure, there’s not much you can do to affect others, but you can try to anticipate what your opponents are going to do and use that to your advantage.
Let’s take a look at the also-rans:
- Ra (1999, Reiner Knizia, 18.4%): Auctions, Egypt, Knizia. I’m not a fan of any of those things, so I’ve been avoiding this game like the plague (pun intended). I’m sure I’ll play eventually, and I may even like it. I’m just not too excited about it.
- RoboRally (1994, Richard Garfield, 11.3%): This robot programming game would have been my choice if not for RFTG. It’s a ton of fun, if a little overlong.
- Railroad Tycoon/Railways of the World (2005/2009, Martin Wallace and Glenn Drover, 10.4%): Railroad Tycoon was based on Wallace’s Age of Steam system, and Railways was the 2009 reprint after they lost the Railroad Tycoon license. I have played RT, and it was fun, though I prefer Steam.
- The Resistance (2009, Don Eskridge, 7.1%): This is a social deduction game about finding traitors in your midst. I talked about it on the blog, and have played it several times since. It’s fun, but the spies win a lot.
- Runewars (2010, Corey Konieczka, 5.1%): A big Fantasy Flight adventure game set in the Terrinoth universe. I haven’t played, but it’s very highly rated, so maybe someday.
- Other (4.3%): Nominees included Ra: The Dice Game, Rail Baron, RAN, Return of the Heroes, Revolution!, Ricochet Robots, Richthofen’s War, Roma, Rommel in the Deseert, Rum & Pirates, Rune Age, Runebound (2nd edition), Runes, and Rush n’ Crush. Of those, I’ve only played Ra: The Dice Game (not a fan) and half of Runebound (better than Talisman).
- Roll Through the Ages: The Bronze Age (2008, Matt Leacock, 4.2%): A dice-rolling civilization game from the designer of Pandemic. It’s like Yahtzee, but with a theme and interaction, so better. It got nominated for the SdJ two years ago.
- The Republic of Rome (1990, Richard Berthold, Don Greewood and Robert Haines, 3.2%): A political negotiation game set in ancient Rome. The original came from Avalon Hill, but but Valley Games did a reprint in 2009 that helped keep it in the public consciousness.
- Roads and Boats (1999, Jeroen Doumen and Joris Wiersinga, 2.8%): A pick-up-and-deliver civilization building game. I don’t know much about it, but it’s pretty well respected. It’s also a long game – BGG lists the time as 4 hours.
- Reef Encounter (2004, Richard Breese, 2.6%): I’m a little surprised this fish themed game didn’t do better. It’s a pretty deep strategy game, one that I enjoyed the first time I played (even though I was terrible at it).
S is up next, and I don’t think anyone will be surprised by the winner. Thanks for reading!